A Neapolitan Market by Attilio Pratella

Neapolitan cuisine has ancient historical roots that date back to the Greco-Roman period, which was enriched over the centuries by the influence of the different cultures that controlled Naples and its kingdoms, such as that of Aragon and France. Since Naples was the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, its cuisine took much from the culinary traditions of the region, balancing between dishes based on rural ingredients and seafood. The Spanish and French rule in Naples initiated the difference between the cuisine of the aristocrats and that of the poorer classes. The former was characterized by elaborate, more cosmopolitan dishes and a greater number of expensive ingredients, including meat.

Braciola (plural braciole) is the name given to thin slices of meat (typically pork, chicken, beef or swordfish) that are rolled as a roulade with cheese and bread crumbs. Interestingly, the word braciole derives from the word for charcoal, implying that it was originally cooked “alla brace”, that is, grilled and that it was a cut of meat with the bone.

What are known as braciole in the United States are named involtini in Italian. Each involtini are held together by a wooden toothpick and the dish is usually served in a sauce as a second course. When cooked in tomato sauce, the sauce itself is used to coat the pasta for the first course, giving a consistent taste to the whole meal. Involtini can be cooked along with meatballs and Italian sausage in a Neapolitan ragù or tomato sauce called “Sunday gravy” (northeastern United States). They can also be prepared without tomato sauce. There exist many variations on the recipe, including using different types of cheese and the addition of vegetables, such as eggplant. Braciole are not exclusively eaten as a main dish, but can also be served as a side dish at dinner or in a sandwich for lunch.

First Course

Potato Gnocchi with Peas, Prosciutto and Ricotta

  • 1 lb potato gnocchi store bought or homemade
  • For homemade see post: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup Lemon Ricotta, recipe follows

Directions:

Boil the gnocchi in batches in plenty of salted water. The gnocchi are done about 2 minutes after they float to the surface; remove them with a slotted spoon. Reserve about 1/2 cup cooking water.

At the same time heat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat, add shallots and saute until translucent. Add prosciutto and cook until crisp. Add in the peas and toss gently to coat. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add boiled gnocchi to the pan and gently toss. Add butter and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Stir in the lemon ricotta and add some of the gnocchi water to thin the sauce, if needed.

Lemon Ricotta:

  • 1 cup good quality ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • Salt

Place the ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl and add the lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Second Course

Braised Beef Braciole Stuffed with Basil and Mozzarella

This is a home-style version of the Italian-American classic. The traditional dish uses small roulades of beef round, but in this recipe I use a whole flank steak because it is easier to stuff and roll one large cut of meat and flank steak has more flavor than round steak.

Ingredients:

  • One 2 lb. flank steak
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 12 large basil leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, cut into thin strips (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • One 26-28-oz. container crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz. white mushrooms, quartered

Directions:

Place the flank steak on a large cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, slice the steak lengthwise along one long side (without cutting all the way through the meat) and open it up like a book. Using a meat mallet, flatten the meat so it is about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle both sides of the meat with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

For the stuffing: put the mozzarella, Parmigiano, bread crumbs and basil in a food processor and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the stuffing evenly over the beef and roll it up lengthwise, jelly roll–style, with the stuffing inside. Secure with kitchen twine in five or six places.

Heat half the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering. Add the beef and cook until it browns and releases easily from the pan, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until browned, about 5 more minutes. Transfer meat to a large plate.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the onion to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the onion wilts completely and turns a light brown, about 8 minutes. Add the red wine and cook, stirring, until it is almost completely reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a gentle simmer and add the meat and mushrooms to the sauce. Cover and cook, repositioning the meat occasionally, until the meat becomes tender and cuts easily with a paring knife, about 1-1/2 hours.

Set the meat on a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice and serve topped with the sauce. (Adapted from Big Buy Cooking)

Spicy Rapini with Garlic and Oregano

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), ends trimmed and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

Cook broccoli in boiling, salted water in a large saucepan 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender; drain. Rinse with cold water and and drain again. Coarsely chop.

Heat oil in the same saucepan. Add broccoli, garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano; cook stirring 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, to taste.

Mixed-Greens-and-Herb Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 4 ounces Black Mission figs, thinly sliced ( 2/3 cup)
  • 8 cups mixed Italian lettuce greens
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons torn mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 tablespoons snipped chives
  • 1 ounce fresh pecorino, shaved

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast until golden, about 10 minutes; let cool, then coarsely chop.

In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the figs, greens, parsley, mint, dill, chives, pecorino and walnuts and toss gently.

Dessert Course

Italian Apple Cake

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 oz. (125 grams) butter
  • 1 TB butter for greasing pan
  • 3/4 cups (125 grams) sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 ¾ cup (250 grams) flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon baking powder (16 grams)
  • 2/3 cup (125 ml) milk
  • Grated rind of 2 lemons
  • For the apples:
  • 1 ½ lb. (700 grams) apples (Golden Delicious)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • Confectioners sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F (180°C) and thoroughly butter and flour a 10” (25 cm) springform pan.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft, add the 3/4 cups sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and salt. Add the flour gradually, alternating with the milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it with a spatula so it is even.

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Slice each quarter into 3-4 pieces, about 1/4 inch wide. Place the slices core side down on the batter. Start from the outside making one circle, then make a smaller inner circle of apple slices. The apples should be quite close together so that you barely see the batter. You may have a few apple slices that don’t fit. Sprinkle the surface of the apple cake with the 1 1/2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Place on a rack, remove the springform side and allow to cool. Sieve powdered sugar over the apple cake before serving. Serves 8-10.

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